"While you're managing the day's stressors, your body is managing the day's stress"
- Emily & Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle
In the business of our modern lives, stress and anxiety have become all too familiar companions. They arrive in response to the demands of our daily routines and the pressures that surround us.
Our bodies then, respond with a symphony of tightened muscles, shallow breaths, and a constant feeling of unease.
These physical signals are more than just fleeting discomforts – they're messengers connecting our minds and bodies.
The ones that have been doing a great job of saving us from immediate danger over the course of human existence.
Anxiety, stress, and many other responses to threatening situations have very similar body patterns and are all derived from our inborn fear reaction to falling.
It has particular muscular limitations involved. Your breath becomes shallow or interrupted, your head moves forward and down, and your abdominals get contracted, as you are starting to clench your teeth...
The sympathetic system branch of your nervous system is firing up. It prepares your body for demanding physical activity in case an emergency “fight-or-flight” reaction is needed.
Ideally, once the danger is over, your body would quiet down and revert to the restorative "rest and digest" default operational mode (governed by the parasympathetic nervous system).
But, unfortunately, it is not always the case.
The danger of getting used to it
The original stress response is crucial for your protection in the face of a threat. However, it's essential to let go of it once the danger is no longer there, encouraging the nervous system to return to a state of tranquillity.
When the stressful situation continues over time or happens again and again, we start to adapt to it. And the corresponding body patterns of anxiety and stress, by which we protect ourselves in response, become a habit.
Once habitual, these body patterns become a fertile ground for feeling anxious.
One way to look at anxiety is through a prism of sustained fear. Anxiety is carrying past moments (of trauma and danger), that were real, into the present moment.
The real cause of the fear or stress can be long in the past, but because the physical pattern is still there it becomes easier to revive it. It makes you feel like the situation is real and is happening right now.
If the stress or anxiety last long enough, you start to forget what feeling better feels like and how to bring yourself back into a state of ease. You forget how simple breathing, light posture, and easy movement feel.
Easing the grip
Our nervous system is more intelligent than we are, Moshe Feldenkrais used to say.
No matter our differences, we each have a nervous system that is available for change, available for improvement.
The development of neuroscience has proven it and gifted us with the understanding of neuroplasticity - the quality of the human brain to change for the better at any age.
So, we just need to tap into its capacity to learn and grow and remind our brain of how it feels to be better.
Using attention and awareness
When it comes to calming our bodies from stress and anxiety, paying attention to our sensations can become a valuable tool to reduce the established patterns of tension.
It's like switching on a light in a room that was previously immersed in darkness – suddenly, we see details, connections, and pathways that were once hidden.
By tuning into the physical sensations during the movement, you can learn about the physical traces of stress and anxiety that often go unnoticed. And, even more importantly, you can gently interrupt habitual patterns and release unnecessary tension that you've been holding unconsciously.
The key lies in attending to yourself, and truly noticing your own sensations. This simple act generates valuable information for your brain.
From this information, the transformation and growth will occur naturally, without your deliberate involvement. It's not about consciously forcing yourself to improve. In fact, conscious intervention will interfere with your learning and your ability to change.
It's a fascinating paradox. The more you develop awareness and let it do its job without forcing anything, the better you'll feel.
Going fast or slow
You might have noticed that stressed people often use quick and powerful movements. Such movements, with a lot of unnecessary muscular effort, are powered by the sympathetic nervous system.
When the body stays tensed up on a regular basis, it continuously sends corresponding signals to the brain, which keeps you one step away from anxiety. So, you can get easily triggered by the smallest stressor.
Slow gentle movement, on the other hand, is governed by the parasympathetic nervous system and represents a state of calm.
Using small and unhurried movement, while staying within your comfort, allows you to pay attention to your body as you move. There, you can develop an awareness of your sensations and open the opportunity to shift away from anxiety pathways to a more stable state.
When you release the body patterns of stress you leave anxiety without its physical representation and create space for having options.
Your brain loves feeling good
Our brains evolved to avoid discomfort and are always happy to welcome feeling good.
The more we experience feeling at ease, free deep breathing and light effortless posture, the more we remind our brain about a more pleasant alternative way of being.
This built-in preference greatly facilitates the return to a state of neurological balance.
As if we were gently nudging it and saying, "Remember how wonderful it feels to be feeling this way? Let's do more of it"
This is exactly what we do in the Mindful Movement practice. We create conditions for you to pay attention to your body as you move and develop an awareness of your sensations. We open the opportunity to shift away from stress and anxiety pathways to a more neurologically stable state of calm alertness for you to rest, digest and enjoy your life.